Create Unique Learning Spaces and Retain Quality Teachers

In their fourth principal interview for the NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Georgia principal Bivins Miller about creating authentic and unique learning spaces and recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

Center for Innovative Leadership


Bivins Miller, principal of McAllister Elementary School in Richmond Hill, Georgia, has his hands full with about 1,300 kids in his school—and five at home—and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

For Bivins, it’s important to incorporate fun into his school, like rolling out a red carpet on the first day of school to welcome students, incorporating gaga pits into the playgrounds, and building a chicken coop in free space on the school campus.

With the addition of what he calls LLCs (Luxurious Learning Cottages), the school was able to add 10 classrooms to the campus to accommodate the growing school community. Going from a school of 800 students to about 1,300 in a few years isn’t easy, though. But by building a strong school in innovative ways, the school, the students, and the faculty have found success.

The Challenges:

  1. How do I create authentic and unique learning spaces?
  2. How do I recruit and retain quality teachers?

What You’ll Learn

Principal Spotlight:

Bivins Miller
Principal, McAllister Elementary School in Richmond Hill, Georgia
Twitter: @BivinsMiller

Principal of McAllister Elementary School in Richmond Hill, Georgia, Miller is former high school special education teacher who moved into a high school administrative role before joining McAllister when the opportunity arose. Not one to be timid around his students, Miller works hard to make sure students enjoy their experience in his school, even if that means him dressing up as Mr. Incredible and cruising through the halls on roller skates.

In this video, Miller takes you on a virtual tour—from a drone flown by a former McAllister student—of his school to show how he makes use of the space inside his school and outside of it to maximize learning for his students and staff. From Miller, you will learn ideas to:

Create authentic and unique learning spaces.

  • The school’s media center does its own version of Lite-Bright, thanks to a great idea by the media specialist in the school. The center features three large pegboards hung on the wall, full of colorful golf tees, so students can move around the tees to create patterns and pictures.
  • On the first day of school, as they students walk down the red carpet, community leaders like EMTs and police officers line the hallway to high-five students. On the last day, seniors from the local high school come to congratulate the students on graduation day. At other times, students at McAllister Elementary leave the school grounds to interact with community members by putting on concerts for residents of a local retirement community.
  • Bright colors are all around at McAllister—even on the ceiling! Students get to decorate ceiling tiles of hearts or wildcat paws (the school’s mascot) that line the ceilings.
  • Using grant funding, the school built a chicken coop this spring. Starting in the fall, McAllister students will learn how to tend to the chickens, harvest the eggs, and use the manure of the chickens to fertilize the garden plots behind the coop. The students will sell the eggs to members of the community, with the funds going to back into supporting the project.

Recruit and retain quality teachers.

  • Miller and his faculty attend teacher recruitment events to find quality faculty. Often, students at the local university leave the rural and suburban areas to find teaching opportunities in urban school districts once they graduate. They use social media to reach a younger demographic of teachers, too.
  • Get out there early and often, says Miller, when it comes to recruiting. To find quality teachers, it’s key to complete background checks and reference checks early, even before a potential new teacher comes in for an interview, because the best candidates get hired quickly.
  • To retain teachers, Miller runs a yearlong mentorship program. Veteran teachers and administrators partner with newly hired teachers to make sure they know they have someone to lean on as they adjust to a new school.
  • Miller stays connected to teachers after they’re hired, too, especially if it’s going to be months before they actually are in the school teaching. He keeps in contact with them and even sends them swag bags with goodies like hats and t-shirts from the school so they feel like they’re part of the family right off the bat.


  1. Bring the community to the school and the students into the community.
  2. Make your new teachers feel like part of the family from the day they’re hired.
  3. Don’t expect new teachers to come to you; meet them where they are.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.